- Introduced to physics through optics.
- Currently President of the National Society of Hispanic Physicists
- Accomplished pianist and harpsichord player
Advice for Students
- Join societies that support your diversity
- Develop good time management
- Concentrate on your math
- Look for opportunity for hands-on experience
Opting for Optics
In high school in Puerto Rico, Luz Martinez-Miranda’s teacher introduced the class to the world of physics by teaching them about optics. Luz was fascinated by the way optics problems seemed to relate to the real world. “There was something about lenses that made me want to study more,” she says.
So that’s what Luz did. She pursued her interest in physics at the University of Puerto Rico, where she earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the subject. After that, she moved to the U.S. for graduate school at MIT.
Although larger class sizes and living in a university environment were new for Luz, she was comfortable in graduate school. “I knew I could do physics,” she says. As she gained more experience and confidence in the field, she noticed that some of the resistance she experienced as a woman in physics faded.
Liquid Crystals and Bone Building
Now, Luz is a professor at the University of Maryland where she studies liquid crystals. Her research focuses on how containers holding the substance interact with it. She also hopes to do research on biological molecules like collagen. She wants to shed light on how the body builds bone and how doctors might be able to mimic that process. Experts could possibly use Luz’s research in medical applications like bone reconstruction.
Advice for Students
Efforts with Diversity
Luz plays an active role in recruiting and offering support to minorities in physics. She was elected President of the National Society of Hispanic Physicists (NSHP) for the 2010-2012 term, which is her second term as president. She’s also active with Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), where she judges engineering posters at their annual meeting. In addition, Luz is part of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s efforts to increase and support underrepresented American minority Ph.D. students in math, science and engineering.
Organize Your Time
Luz says, “you have to strike a balance.” In school and in her professional life, Luz learned to balance her work and her hobbies. She began playing the piano at age seven and pursued her interest in college, where she completed a degree in music performance along with her physics degree. Today she owns and plays a harpsichord, an instrument that was popular before the rise of the piano.
Start with Math
Luz tries to encourage students to study physics as her teachers encouraged her in school. She recommends that students get as much math and hands-on experience as they can, and tells students not to give up. “After you get through the basics, you move on to the really interesting things,” she says.
Optics: this branch of physics deals with light—its properties, behavior, and interactions with matter. It also involves the study of mirrors and lenses.
Liquid crystals are a substances whose molecules are ordered in one direction, but flow like liquid. They are used in electronic displays like on calculators, and are also a part of biological cell membranes.
Collagen is a protein that can grow into either bone or skin tissue.
SACNAS (Society for Advancing Hispanics/Chicanos & Native Americans in Science) is a national nonprofit organization of individuals and organizations interested in quality science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) research, teaching, leadership, and policy.